By Yoonjin Moon
For most people, June 12 was just an ordinary Wednesday. However, the crowd that gathered in the Andover High School cafe that day after school suggested that something not so ordinary was happening. Upon closer inspection of the crowd, it became apparent that it consisted of the members of the mixed show choir and Asian American Club. They had put a show together in honor of the Chinese exchange students who had traveled halfway across the world for ten days.
The exchange students seemed to enjoy the show choir’s performance, even clapping along to the music when they could. The show choir was followed by performances of the Asian American Club, which were especially welcomed by the exchange students, for some of the members addressed them in Chinese. Alan Lin, a junior at Andover High, even sang a well known Chinese song, “Tong Hua,” which translates into “Fairy Tale.”
“It’s an honor to perform for them,” said Clarence Morse, an Andover High freshman and member of the Asian American Club.
The Chinese exchange students in question were participating in a temporary student exchange program that Andover High had with Heng Shui High School, one of the top three high schools in China. Andover High had sent ten of its students to Heng Shui High in April. The seven Chinese students who had made the trip to Andover were the other half of the program.
In order to be chosen for the exchange program, the Andover students submitted applications, which were reviewed by Andover High’s sole Chinese teacher, Ms. Mei Lynn.
Ms. Lynn had selected the ten applicants who accompanied her on the trip to Heng Shui. While in China, Andover’s students toured popular attractions such as the Great Wall of China, the Forbidden City, Summer Palace, and Tiananmen Square. Later, they visited Heng Shui High and met some of the students who attended it.
When asked what his reason for applying was, Andrew Wang, a junior, stated that even though ethnically he is Chinese, he had not fully experienced China. In addition, his goal was to “open [his] eyes to see the difference in cultures.”
“I wanted to have a good time and expand my view on academics around the world,” said freshman Eric Lee, who also participated in the exchange program. “I wanted to make friends, make a da jia, a big family.”
Lee, who also acted as one of the host families to the exchange students, stated that out of everything, the Chinese students loved to shop.
“They really love it,” he said, laughing.
Kyle Lightner, a staff member of Andover Youth Services, agrees. Lightner stated that upon their visit to the Prudential Center, the students were right at home among the designer stores.
In addition to the Prudential Center, the Chinese students also visited, among other places, Hampton Beach, Harvard, MIT, Boston College, and Copley Place.
“I wish we could have done more,” said Lightner regretfully. “I’ve never been around Chinese students for that long before. It was a different experience.”
In order to take part in the program, the Chinese students of Heng Shui High were required to take an examination; the top scorers were given a chance to participate.
Two of the students chosen, James Liu and Burning Luo, seemed to be comfortable even in the unfamiliar environment.
“We don’t want to leave,” said Liu immediately when asked about how he felt about America. Burning nodded, stating that their school in China required fifteen hours of studying per day, as translated by a fluent Chinese speaker and Andover High student, Tracy Sun.
“Students here are different from my students,” said Hongyan Liu, one of the English teachers at Heng Shui High. Ms. Liu was required to take examinations and attend interviews in order to be chosen to take part in the exchange program. She stated that kids in America had more freedom and time to pursue their interests and were “excited and totally different.”
Jorge Allen, the AHS World Language Program Advisor, was responsible for putting together a proposal to request permission for the exchange program. In addition, he acted as the chauffeur for the students upon their visit to America, providing rides to and from the airport, as well as to various tourist attractions.
“Teenagers are the same regardless of the country,” said Mr. Allen amusedly when asked about what he took away from the experience. “They love texting. They love to play.”
When asked about how he thought the students changed after their visit to America, Mr. Allen said, “Their level of confidence in English grew.” He stated that initially, the Chinese students seemed confused, mostly due to the language barrier present.
Mr. Allen is one of many who hope to continue temporary foreign exchange programs at Andover High School. Ms. Lynn stated that she expected the Chinese exchange program to continue in the years to come. When asked if there was a possibility of foreign exchange programs with countries other than China, Mr. Allen stated that a reboot of the French exchange program may be in the near future.
Whatever happens, Lightner and the AYS will support it.
“I think it’s very important to have cross cultural connections,” said Lightner with conviction, showing his enthusiasm for foreign exchange programs.
The Chinese exchange program has opened a doorway for future exchange programs at Andover High School. In the words of Dr. Lord himself, “Thank you for being brave enough to come to our country.”